Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Communist Libertarianism: The North Korean Paradox

With China on the slippery slope towards pseudo-capitalism, North Korea is really the last Cold War Communist State left.  The more isolated they become, the more frightened they get, shoring up their firewalls and threatening any trouble that might even possibly think about lapping at their shores.  Alas, North Korea reflects all that went wrong with the Stalinist Experiment - corrupt leaders that feel entitled to their frills, poorly-informed decisions, resource inefficiency, a suffering populace and the thing that irks me the most - waste.  Waste of materials.  Waste of talent.  Waste of opportunity.
Opportunity, of course, lies in change, adaptation, growth.  You can't have progress without change, which requires a certain personal flexibility and a willingness to listen to and work with others. 
Progressives, as we know, get branded as pinko lefties by the political right; trying to force social contracts and new ideologies on the people who are just fine as they are, thank you very much.  Libertarians in particular are anathema to centrally-generated, centrally-imposed policy, particularly where it comes to their right to do whatever they please with their resources on their land.  "Back off, government," say the landowers - this is our land."  Libertarians can get pretty belligerent when they feel their personal and territorial liberties are being threatened. 
One of those personal liberties they cherish, of course, is the ability to protect their territory.  While the Second Amendment was about having a populace armed to protect against external threats, the political right, led by the NRA, have reinterpreted it to be about the right to bear arms and protect personal property, including self.  There are lots of threats lapping at the castle walls, a man's got to be able to defend his family, or something to that effect.  The NRA spends a whole lotta money fighting for the individua's right to bear arms
When innocent people die because of those arms, the NRA is quick to point out it's not their ideology, but external threats that are the problem.  Their Spokesman Wayne Lapierre issued a statement that was carried by Fox News to every corner of the US:  "In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes—every minute of every day of every month of every year.”
But wait a minute. 
Anti-change, anti-external imposition, the desire to keep people off your land, protect it with guns and thump your chest at anyone who comes near your territory?  That sounds awfully familiar.  It sounds something like North Korea.
Ah, but I'm only saying that because I'm a lefty, pinko progressive.  I'm either incapable of understanding how things really work or am choosing to ignore the facts.  True libertarian/politically right people aren't interested in ruling over big territories or other people, they just want to be left alone to their own space.  You don't interfere in their business, they won't interfere in yours. 
It just so happens that because we have a corrupt, socialist system in place, the world isn't working the way it's supposed to.  Which is why people like Randy Hillier proactively work to get out the non-freedom lovers like Norm Sterling to make room for properly anti-government libertarians like Jack MacLaren.
Ditto Rob Ford - the Lord Mayor was so upset with the corruption and entitlement of leftist Mayors that he had no choice but to do whatever it took to win office and set things to right.  We're very lucky he's there - he's all that stands between us and the leftists on City Council.  He's also the only hope the kids of Don Bosco have of getting ahead in life.  Mayor Ford, you see, knows the right way to motivate people to be independent, so long as they listen to him.  Those he can't help, he can shout down - or incarcerate, or run out of town
The checks and balances of a democratically elected government and an impartial bureaucracy have helped to filter out some of Mayor Ford's policy approaches.  One wonders what he'd be up to, as leader, if those checks and balances that infuriate him so didn't exist.  Then again, he does have the undying love and support of Ford Nation in his corner.
Power is about getting and maintaining control.  Libertarians want control of their own lives, but in a social context, that absolute freedom has to come at the expense of someone else's freedom.  Totalitarianism is basically libertarianism at the state level.  Both libertarians and totalitarians want the freedom to exercise their control in their territory however they please and think that they're the ones who have all the answers. 
Despite what they tell themselves, freedom from others isn't the goal - control of territory and resources is.  People, after all, are territorial animals.
Like all animals, people maintain territorial control through threats and, where necessary, strength.  Handguns are to people what horns are to bulls or rhinos - and nuclear deterrents are the same thing at the state level.  Costly and expensive propaganda is the state-level equivalent to the peacock's tail.  Control is about preventing external incentive to change, which is what progress is all about.
Knowledge is progress.  The handgun and the nuke are the products of progress, as are all weapons and fences that help protect one's territory.  All aspects of society, in fact, have been engineered not by isolationist individuals or regimes, but by collaborative people.
Progress isn't about forcing change, so much as libertarianism is about stopping it.  Just like the North Korean regime keeps trying to do.  Fortunately for both, progress is like time - you can't stop the inevitable.


Balance, Leadership

You have to pick a side, we're told - you're with us or against us.  Sitting on the fence is bad.
The great leaders of history never did this.  Their role has forever been to bring balance between the light and the dark, the old and the new, the yin and the yang - and in the process, shade in our world with colour.
The centre path isn't about sitting on the fence - it's about breaking down walls.

Plato's Desktop

Heins Q+A: We should not think of mobile computing as a desktop on your tablet. "We've got to think beyond that point."
Ah yes, that thing that seems like a carriage, but moves on its own internally combusted power - yet whose oomph is still measured in horsepower.
The Internet has been a lot like that - it gets used to do old tasks in a different way before digital natives begin to see the Net not through the lens of past usage needs, but that of its potential.
It's no big secret why and how this happens - the bulk of our brain is tasked with storing information and filtering new stimuli through the lens of the familiar.  If it looks like a carriage and moves like a carriage, then surely it must be a carriage?  
That's why metaphor works - it allows us to fill in the margins of something unknown without the harder task of grasping something new.  The associative process also allows us to use new tools in old ways - if it's heavy like a hammer and solid like a hammer, you can use it as a hammer.
Look at the pictures below - what do you see?
Sometimes a cup is just a cup - would these two folk agree?
Does this face look like an Eskimo - or does the Eskimo look like a face?
If you look, you can see the face of God all around us - but who created who in their own image?
Optical illusions are created by our brain; not by the world around us, but through our interpretation of it.  Stop-motion animation pictures never moved - our brains simply filled in the gap.  This ability to associate the basic characteristics of differing things is extremely useful.  Particularly in life-or-death survival situations there's value in being able to quickly differentiate potential threats from opportunities or what can be used as a tool/weapon, as needed.
Innovation, however, isn't about determining the value of what exists already - it's about creating value-add.  It's a more esoteric skill that isn't necessary for bare-bones living, but the ability to create something new out of things that have come before is fundamental to social and technological evolution.  It's the accumulated whys and what ifs that help us understand the potential of a thing and to combine ideas and create something entirely new. 
Like using a horse for transport.  Or using wheels and a platform for transport.  Or better yet, using the horse to pull the wheeled platform so that we are free to do something else, or to do more.  Heck, mabye this new contraption could even carry us.  Presto!  You have both the carriage, specialization and the origin of civilization.
Until we evolve out of the limbic brain entirely, the challenge of balancing an understanding of things based on what we know versus identifying their potential applications will continue.  We can weigh the consequences of stigmatizing the unfamiliar versus exploring its advantages when we are calm, focused and in balance.  The more we butt heads, so to speak, between these two cognitive functions, the more polarized we become, leading to an expanded gap between our progressive and conservative selves. 
When these two halves are in conflict, not balance, it's like gunning the engine of your horseless carriage while the break is still on - you're expending energy just to stay in place

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Advocacy: It's the Little Stones that Take Down Goliath

I like this metaphor, a lot.  Positive advocacy is a lot like the falling of small stones which start an avalanche in the mountains.  Over time, those little stones can change the entire landscape.

A thing about those stones - they tend to move all others in the same direction.

Why Hugging Thugs Works

Photo: That's why hugs are AWESOME!!!~Brandy

Every wonder why successful politicians do the two-handed handshake or give you a pat on the shoulder?  Because through doing so, they're winning you over.

You can do it too.

High five a team member.  Give a client a hug.  They'll feel better - so will you.  You might just feel inclined to work together that little bit extra.

Political Sales - Know Your Audience

You can see politics as competition - destroying your opposition - or you can see it as sales.  You can agitate voters into voting against, but only in the absence of meaning.  What earns the people's trust, though, isn't knowing what you stand against, but what you stand for
Naturally, people want to know you stand for them.  Voters are always more likely to buy from and come back to the Party that listens to and empathizes with them.

Matt Ridley Talks Dirty About Ideas

When Ideas Have Sex

The secret to human success is—and always has been—collaboration.

Photograph by John Watson
As I write this, two artifacts of roughly the same size and shape sit on my desk: a cordless mouse and a hand axe from the Middle Stone Age. Both are designed to fit the human grip. Both are technologies. Yet the difference between them is profound.
The hand axe represents a technology that did not change for a million years; it evolved slower than the human skeleton. The mouse will be obsolete in a few years. The axe consists of a single, natural substance. The mouse is a complex confection of metals, semiconductors, plastics, and lasers. The axe was made by a single individual. The mouse was made by thousands—perhaps millions—of people, each of whom played a small role in realizing the whole. Farmers grew the coffee that shippers transported and was consumed by oil riggers whose petroleum was used by refinery workers to make the plastic that was molded by factory workers for the mouse, which was assembled by other laborers for salespeople to sell to the retailer who sold it to me. Not one of them alone knows how to make a computer peripheral from scratch.
And yet, it is the mouse, not the hand axe, that is the key to understanding why human beings dominate the planet and why there has been such explosive prosperity and progress over the past 100,000 years. The knowledge of how to make the mouse—and so many other modern-day products—transcends the limitations of the human brain. Our ability to plan and to think and to communicate ideas through language may be impressive, but it still requires each of us to understand every idea that settles within our own skulls. When we moved away from self-sufficiency and began to work together, combining our knowledge, the consequence was far-reaching: We created things we could not and do not understand, from cordless mice to urban metropolises.
Cooperation turned us into specialists: I’ll do this job, you do that one. Specialization gave us incentives to innovate. Innovation led to yet more specialization and more ways of combining different specialized skills. Human intelligence became collective and cumulative to an extent that no other species can rival.
The key human invention, therefore, was exchange—the ability to trade ideas and efforts. We do this every time we go to the office. We produce one specialized thing or service, and in exchange we get to tap the resources of hundreds of other people, from janitors to actors, from coffee growers to electrical engineers. The more specialized our work becomes, the more diversified our consumption.
Exchange had precisely the same effect on our culture that sexual reproduction had on evolution through natural selection. In asexual species, wholly different mutations that arise in different lineages cannot be combined. They compete with one another, and whichever one most enhances the individual’s survival and ability to reproduce survives at the expense of the others. In sexual species, mutations can join the same genomic team, because of genetic exchange. Sex makes evolution cumulative.
Other species with culture but no exchange are like asexual beings: they cannot accrete, combine, and accumulate. Chimpanzees are like this. They are highly cultural in the sense that they teach one another skills, parent their offspring, and consequently develop idiosyncratic traditions within groups. They even make technologies, by choosing rocks to crack nuts, by fashioning twigs to fish for termites. But because chimps do not compare notes or exchange inventions among troops, their ideas cannot have sex and they do not experience progressive cultural change or build increasingly elaborate combinations of ideas as humans do.
Homo erectus, the inventors of the hand axe, probably were like this. Clearly, the tradition of how to transform a rock into a tool was passed down from one generation to the next. Their Eurasian descendants, the Neanderthals, had enormous brains—bigger than modern man’s—and no doubt had even richer culture. Neanderthals buried their dead, which implies imagination, and they shared modern man’s peculiar version of the language gene, so they may well have had good linguistic skills. But their technology showed no progress and no combinatorial growth. They lacked one crucial human behavior of today: trade.
We know this because Neanderthal tools were always made from local stone, whereas “modern” humans in Africa began transporting exotic materials—obsidian, jasper, sea-shells—across great distances 100,000 years ago. People had discovered exchange, so our culture had become sexual, and the combinatorial, progressive explosion could begin. We somehow got over the hurdle that defeated every other social species, from ants to chimps, and learned to trust strangers.
Since ancient times, the exchange of ideas and goods has fueled innovation. Trade, not necessity, is the mother of invention. More thinking and development comes during times of prosperity than desperation. Look at the great bursts of creativity in human history and why they occurred when and where they did: America in the 20th century, Britain in the 19th, Holland in the 17th, Italy in the 15th, China in the 11th, Arabia in the 9th—and before that Rome, Egypt, Greece, India, Phoenicia, and Sumeria. Even the invention of agriculture itself, 10,000 years ago in Syria, happened at a place where hunter-gatherer trade routes met.
In every case it was openness to exchange, within and among nations, that drove innovation (and predation by chiefs, priests, and thieves that shut it down). The same is true today. Countries that open their borders to the free exchange of goods and services and ideas and innovations flourish, while those that cut themselves off and seek economic self-sufficiency stagnate. Compare South and North Korea.
But now, thanks to the Internet, ideas can meet and mate globally and instantaneously like never before. What else is crowdsourcing but working with one another? The cross-fertilization of ideas between, say, Asia and Europe that once took years, decades, or centuries can now happen in minutes while Australia, the Americas, and Africa eavesdrop. The cloud is for everybody, whereas in the old days the sharing of ideas was reserved for the privileged elite. There is, as Stanford economist Paul Romer has argued, not even a theoretical limit to the number of combinations of atoms and electrons we can devise, and the rate at which we devise them is bound to accelerate.
Fasten your seatbelts.
Matt Ridley is the British author of books on evolution, genetics, and society, including The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. He was a TEDGlobal speaker.

When Ideas Stop Having Sex

In his TEDGlobal talk Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, asked the question, “What happens when you cut people off from the ability to exchange?” His answer was that technological progress not only slows down, but actually regresses because isolated groups no longer have the advantages of trade. Look at Tasmania. Before sea levels began rising some 12,000 years ago, the island we now know as Tasmania was actually connected to mainland Australia by a low land mass over which people would travel to trade fishing secrets and equipment, bone tools, and specialized skills. When the physical connection to the mainland was severed, some 4,000 island dwellers began living life in isolation. As generations came and went, the Tasmanians did not take part in the advances being made among the mainland tribes. They lost the ability to make bone tools, boats, and fishing equipment. Eventually, they forgot how to fish altogether. Why? As Ridley says, “The small population was not large enough to maintain the specialized skills necessary to keep the technology they had.”

Cognitive Foreplay: Communication as Idea Sex

The purpose of sex is reproduction.  If that's all it's about, you don't need to waste time on foreplay - just get to the point, quickly, so you can move on to the next opportunity.  When you rush the job to close the deal, though, there's a chance of missing the mark.  Foreplay is about taking the time to line up appropriately, do the job well and maybe even establish a mutually beneficial relationship that supports a strong, sustainable end product as a result. 
Communication is a lot like sex.  If your goal is to plant an idea, you want to deliver it in the simplest, quickest format possible so you can move on to the next target.  That's what messaging does - hit hard and fast using emotion as a tool to register quickly and impactfully.  The problem is, you can't always guarantee your message is received the way you intended; feelings, after all, aren't the same beast as ideas.  If you're too busy to focus any length of attention on your audience, they're going to see that and be turned off.
Should you want to create something new that's stronger and better adapted than what came before, you have to take the time to warm up your audience, which means investing yourself in the process a bit.  In communication, that's called a conversation.  It takes time, but it's time well spent - the process is enjoyable and the end result, when reached collaboratively, is explosive.
But, if you really need a bullet point, start with this - smart is sexy


Tuesday 5 March 2013

Cognitive Labour in the Financial Post (By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco)

Only a decade ago, to suggest mental health was a critical issue for Canadian businesses would have seemed ludicrous. That sentiment seems to be rapidly waning. With its announcement earlier this month of a national standard to help businesses put in place policies that improve employees’ psychological health, Ottawa highlighted what many had long suspected: There are far too many Canadians with mental illness for the business community to ignore them.
The standard came in response to the findings of a federal study showing there are as many as 800,000 well-educated workers in Canada who suffer from mental disabilities but who are perfectly capable of working if offered the right conditions in which to do so — a staggering number considering the labour shortages faced by many of the nation’s critical industries.
Mental illness is an economic, as well as a health-outcome problem.
Mental health problems affect businesses and their bottom lines in many ways. According to The Life and Economic Impact of Major Mental Illnesses in Canada: 2011 to 2041, a 2011 study conducted by RiskAnalytica for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, just absenteeism and presenteeism (being physically present but otherwise too unwell to be fully productive) due to mental health problems cost Canadian businesses $6-billion annually.
In addition to this lost productivity, Canadian businesses, through employee assistance programs, healthcare benefits and disability costs also bear a significant cost for mental health care in this country. In fact, with medication, psychologists and specialized treatments, including therapies for PTSD (now understood to afflict a wide array of people) not typically covered by government-funded health care, many Canadians turn to their employers’ benefits programs for help.
“Mental illness is an economic, as well as a health-outcome problem,” says Philip Jacobs, executive director and CEO of the Institute of Health Economics and one of the authors of a 2010 report to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. His study found the private sector spends between $180- and $300-million on short-term disability benefits related to mental illnesses and $135-million for long-term disability benefits. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, mental health is the fastest-growing disability claim in Canada’s workplace. In fact, 21.4% of the working population currently experiences mental health problems that can affect productivity. Much of that is made up of individuals in their prime working age of 25 to 54.
People with mental health problems work in Canada’s C-Suites and storefronts, in factories and offices and in every other workplace in the country. Stereotypes that depict people with mental health problems as “crazy” and incapable of functioning in normal society have perpetuated a false us-and-them divide between the “mentally ill” and the “normal” majority.
The reality is mental health problems affect one in five Canadians every year. Most have led normal working and family lives, but also struggle daily to overcome the symptoms of their mental health problems.
Some businesses today could be contributing to the problem. In his research for The Alberta Survey of Addictive Behaviours and Mental Health in the Workforce report in 2009, psychologist Angus Thompson found 18% of respondents experienced extreme workplace stress. “There are other studies that have found workplace stress is quite high in Canada,” says Mr. Thompson. “That is something that needs to be addressed.”
Researchers at the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) have identified 13 psychosocial risk factors that can lead to an unhealthy, high-stress environment, which is to mental health what hazardous and unsafe workplaces were in the past to physical health. These factors include the way deadlines, workloads and work methods are handled, as well as the context in which work occurs, including relationships and interactions with managers and supervisors, co-workers and customers. CARMHA says when companies embrace psychological health and safety policies and programs, they incur 15% to 33% fewer costs related to psychological health issues.
But in these times in which Canada is shifting toward a knowledge economy, and in which companies increasingly rely on the minds of their employees from the frontlines to the C-suite to identify solutions and innovations, psychological health and safety is increasingly also about protecting a company’s greatest asset.
“We almost take for granted physical health and safety in the workplace these days. All of that started during a time when the bulk of work was based on brawn not brain. The economic engine of Canada today requires a lot of brainpower, so when you think about psychological health and safety standards, there’s a parallel to the development of what was going on in the 1940s when physical health and safety standards were introduced,” says Mary Deacon, who heads Bell Canada’s $50-million multi-year national program in support of mental health launched in 2010 and was previously president and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation.
Ms. Deacon is also a huge proponent of the government’s recently introduced mental health standard. “What the new standard does is provide employers with a management system, a toolkit for systematically looking at your organization, to help you look at what options you have to fill the gap and how do you follow a road of continuous improvement,” she says. Many have put great hopes in the new standards to not just help improve mental health and safety in the workplace but also spark much-needed dialogue. For example, while large organizations can afford to provide benefits and employee assistance programs, many smaller organizations simply lack the finances to do so.
Even when companies have such services in place, it might not always be enough. “Research would say that both drug and talk therapy is recommended treatment protocol for many types of mental illness. Many organizations are very limited in the amount made available to employees for talk therapy approaches, such as a $500/hr. coverage toward a psychologist or psychotherapist,” says Kathy Jurgens, national program manager of mental health works at the Canadian Mental Health Association.
There is consensus on the important role played by awareness and education, open and public discussions, more investment in research and treatment as well as an exploration into the far-reaching impact mental health problems have on Canadian society, including Canadian businesses.
Ms. Deacon believes the new standards will allow business leaders to feel their approach is based on expert counsel and encourage them to commit to improving the mental health situations within their organizations. “That should result in cost-efficiencies, better employee recruitment and retention of talent and it should result in a sense of a culture of an organization that really cares about its employees,” she says.
The long-term benefits of employers proactively dealing with mental health in the workplace won’t just be a happier and healthier workforce, but also lower costs, improved productivity and more optimal work environments, a healthier workforce and work environments. Of course, it won’t hurt the country to save the estimated $50-billion in annual costs spent on mental health each year.

Mental Health: A Business Opportunity You'd be Crazy to Miss

Know how business has begun to realize supporting gay rights is, well, good business and is starting to go where early adapters in society have already gone? 
We're just passing the innovators stage, with programs like the federal psychological workplace standards now available for consumption.  The early adapters who turn this trend into business opportunities soon will reap the rewards - as will everyone, as this is one of those shifts in social conscious that help everyone move forward.  
Many a smart advocates and entrepreneur are there already.   
If you want to learn more, let me know.

Here's a Crazy Idea: Mania, Innovation and Enterpreneurs

I came across this article, oddly enough, because it showed up as a search term that lead somebody out there to my blog.
Of course, I know that I'm hypomanic - pick any post on this blog for proof.  I've come to terms with this and instead of trying not to be something that I am, I've learned to harness my cognitive potential for application.  With time and a lot of discipline, I've done a pretty good job teaching myself to tell the difference between wild flights of fancy and legitimate connections that spark ideas for innovation and collaboration.  This allows me to manage-down the negatives and focus on productive links and creativity.
The connection between mental illness, mental health and innovation, for instance.  Or the notion that workplaces can be designed to foster, not impede, cognitive labour.  How about using video game presentation as a format for government service delivery?  You get the idea.
To ensure all my creativity, networking and product/service/policy design are pointed in the same direction, I made sure I knew where I wanted to go - why I'm passionately motivated to do the things I do.
It takes some effort and frequently, bursts of caffeine, but I can direct my powers of generation down a given path, too.  This allows me to maximize my potential contribution and maybe even having a bit of influence along the way.
The rest falls into place with relative ease:
Not quite a service, not quite a product, the purpose is to create a culture.  Useful products and services are developed almost by default.  By design or alignment, there just happens to be an emerging public conversation that reflects that kind of thinking.
Call me crazy, but I see value in that.   

'The Hypomanic Edge'

Published: April 10, 2005
The Hypomanic American

The Hypomanic Entrepreneur
The 1990s will be remembered as the age of Internet mania, a time when entrepreneurs making grandiose claims for their high-tech companies swept up millions of Americans with their irrational exuberance, inflating the biggest speculative bubble in history. The idea that some entrepreneurs may be a little manic is hardly new. A Google search for "manic" and "businessman" yields more than a million hits. Entrepreneurs, as well as the markets they energized, were commonly described in the media as "manic." Yet, until now, there has never been a serious suggestion that the talent for being an entrepreneur and mania, the genetically based psychiatric disorder, are actually linked. Perhaps because I am a clinical psychologist, it was clear to me that "manic" was more than a figure of speech in this case.
I called several reporters who had written profiles of these "manic" entrepreneurs and asked them, "Do you think he really was manic?" None said yes. "Not really manic; not clinically," was a typical response. They resisted applying the psychiatric diagnosis because the entrepreneurs they had interviewed were boastful, hyperenergized, and zany, but they "weren't crazy." And the journalists were right. Their subjects were not manic. They were hypomanic. Hypomania is a mild form of mania, often found in the relatives of manic depressives. Hypomanics are brimming with infectious energy, irrational confidence, and really big ideas. They think, talk, move, and make decisions quickly. Anyone who slows them down with questions "just doesn't get it." Hypomanics are not crazy, but "normal" is not the first word that comes to mind when describing them. Hypomanics live on the edge, betweeen normal and abnormal.
For example, Jim Clark, cofounder of Netscape, was described in Business Week by Netscape's other cofounder, Jim Barksdale, as "a maniac who has his mania only partly under control." In The New New Thing, Michael Lewis profiled Clark as a perpetual motion machine with a short attention span, forever hurtling at unsafe speeds in helicopters, planes, boats, and cars. When his forward motion is impeded, Clark becomes irritable and bored. In his search for the stimulation of the "new new thing," he quickly loses interest in the companies he founds and tosses them into the laps of his bewildered employees. His Netscape IPO is credited with starting the Internet gold rush. After that it seemed he could do no wrong. When he pitched a new company, Healtheon, a medical Web site, his only business plan was a diagram with five words. His "magic diamond" put Healtheon at the center of four vertices labeled "doctors, consumers, providers, and payers." That was it. His magic diamond, he claimed, was going to "fix the U.S. health care system." It was going to be "bigger than Microsoft, AOL, Netscape and Yahoo!" As Lewis wrote, "Any other human being would have been thrown into an asylum for thinking such grandiose thoughts." Those who followed Clark had faith in his messianic mission. "There was a feeling that we were about to change the world," said one of Healtheon's chief engineers.
Successful entrepreneurs are not just braggarts. They are highly creative people who quickly generate a tremendous number of ideas - some clever, others ridiculous. Their "flight of ideas," jumping from topic to topic in a rapid energized way, is a sign of hypomania. Consider Bill Gross, CEO of Idealab. Bill Gross's job was not to build or run companies, but just to think of ideas for them. Idealab was an "Internet incubator." On Fortune's cover, next to a picture of a cheerful Bill Gross, was the caption "I Lost $800 Million in Eight Months. Why Am I Still Smiling?" The author, Joseph Nocera, Fortune's managing editor, begins his article with an unusual mea culpa. He apologizes to his readers for his previous Fortune article that hyped Gross and Idealab just before the Nasdaq crash. He confesses that Gross converted him into a believer:
I believed him because I was dazzled by him. A small, wiry man, Gross had an infectious boyish enthusiasm that was charming and irresistible. He spoke so rapidly - jumping from topic to topic as if he were hyperlinking - that it was hard to keep up with him, and had so much energy he seemed constantly on the verge of jumping out of his skin. He bubbled over with irrepressible optimism.
And his brain! That's what really set him apart. You could practically see the ideas bursting out of it, one after another, each more offbeat, more original, more promising than the last. The sheer profusion of ideas - and the way he got excited as he described them - was a large part of his charisma.
The reason Bill Gross was still smiling was that his newest new idea was "going to be unbelievably huge" and "revolutionize the Internet." Eight hundred million. Eight hundred shmillion. Nothing could dim Gross's enthusiastic confidence.
During the 1990s, I was paying attention to such behavior because I was planning to write a book about religious movements started by manic prophets. But I began to be distracted by messianic movements happening around me in real time, particularly because, as an avid technology investor, I was a member of one - the believers in the new economy. I was even a millionaire on paper for one exhilarating day in March 2000 at the peak of the market, before my portfolio lost 90 percent of its value. I began to suspect I was writing the wrong book.
My new hypothesis became that American entrepreneurs are largely hypomanic. I decided to undertake what social scientists call a pilot study: a small-scale, inexpensive, informal investigation meant to test the waters. I placed announcements on several Web sites devoted to the technology business, expressing my interest in studying entrepreneurs and requesting volunteers. I interviewed a small sample of ten Internet CEOs. After I read them each a list of hypomanic traits that I had synthesized from the psychiatric literature, I asked them if they agreed that these traits are typical of an entrepreneur:
He is filled with energy.

He is flooded with ideas.
He is driven, restless, and unable to keep still.
He channels his energy into the achievement of wildly grand ambitions.
He often works on little sleep.
He feels brilliant, special, chosen, perhaps even destined to change the world.
He can be euphoric.
He becomes easily irritated by minor obstacles.
He is a risk taker.
He overspends in both his business and personal life.
He acts out sexually.
He sometimes acts impulsively, with poor judgment, in ways that can have painful consequences.
He is fast-talking.
He is witty and gregarious.
His confidence can make him charismatic and persuasive.
He is also prone to making enemies and feels he is persecuted by those who do not accept his vision and mission. 
I feared they might find the questions insulting. I needn't have worried. All of the entrepreneurs agreed that the overall description was accurate, and they endorsed all the hypomanic traits, with the exceptions of "paranoia" and "sexual acting out" (these traits in particular are viewed as very negative and thus may be more difficult to admit to). Most expressed their agreement with excitement: "Wow, that's right on target!" When I asked them to rate their level of agreement for each trait on a standard 5-point scale, many gave ratings that were literally off the chart: 5+s, 6s. One subject repeatedly begged me to let him give a 7. I was startled by the respondents' enthusiasm, though perhaps I shouldn't have been. As a psychotherapist, I am familiar with the way people become energized when they feel understood, especially when it helps them understand themselves better.
Having learned in our conversation that they were hypomanic, the CEOs wanted to talk about it. One now understood better why he regularly rented palatial office space he could not afford and why his wife hid the checkbook. Another could finally explain what drove him to impulsively send broadcast e-mails at 3 A.M. to all his employees, radically revising the company's mission. It was as if merely by asking these questions I had held up a mirror in which these men could see themselves. After talking to them for just fifteen minutes, it seemed as if I was the first person to truly understand them.
One respondent seemed to be in an intense hypomanic state when I interviewed him. He responded to my Web site solicitation by e-mailing me in huge blue block letters: "CALL ME IMMEDIATELY." When I did, he talked rapidly and loudly and laughed quite often. At the same time he was charming, witty, and engaging. The interview was a bit chaotic because he was driving and carrying on another phone call at the same time. He was a serial entrepreneur. After founding one successful company, he had felt he needed to quit his own corporation because he couldn't "make things happen fast enough," leaving him frustrated and bored. Now he was on to a new venture. He was very enthusiastic about my research and volunteered to send me the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of half a dozen well-known high-tech entrepreneurs (which I never received), who he claimed were his "very close friends."
This was a small pilot study, but nonetheless, I was overwhelmed. I had never seen data like this. Because humans are so complex, most effects in psychology are modest and nearly drowned out by the great variability that exists naturally between people. Not in this case. One hundred percent of the entrepreneurs I interviewed were hypomanic! This couldn't be chance. The odds of flipping a coin ten times and getting ten heads in a row is less than one in a thousand. It felt as if I had tested the waters with my little pilot study and been hit with a tidal wave. It was then that I knew I had stumbled onto something big that had been hiding in plain sight.

Mania and Hypomania
A colleague of mine once told me about a manic inpatient he had treated for many years at an Ivy League-affiliated psychiatric teaching hospital. The patient's father was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Each time he visited his son on the unit, he would behave in a dramatically hypomanic fashion. For example, he would make numerous business phone calls around the world on the patients' pay phone, while frantically yelling "Back off!" at patients or staff who tried to interrupt him. Clearly, Dad was not normal, but he had made his hypomania work for him. He was a very rich man.
This family's story illustrates the concrete relationship between mania and hypomania. Manics and hypomanics are often blood relatives. Both conditions run together in families at much higher rates than we would predict by chance. We know that their genes overlap, though we don't know how.
This family's story also illustrates the most radical difference between mania and hypomania. Mania is a severe illness. The son was disabled - a long-term inpatient at a psychiatric hospital. Manic episodes almost always end in hospitalization. People who are highly energized, and also in most cases psychotic, do bizarre things that are dangerous, frightening, and disruptive. They urgently require external control for everyone's safety, especially their own. Most people who have experienced a manic episode remember it as a nightmare.
By contrast, hypomania is not, in and of itself, an illness. It is a temperament characterized by an elevated mood state that feels "highly intoxicating, powerful, productive and desirable" to the hypomanic, according to Frederick K. Goodwin and Kay Redfield Jamison, authors of the definitive nine-hundred-page Manic-Depressive Illness. Most hypomanics describe it as their happiest and healthiest state; they feel creative, energetic, and alive. A hypomanic only has a bipolar disorder if hypomania alternates, at some point in life, with major depression. This pattern, first identified only in 1976, is called bipolar disorder type II to distinguish it from bipolar disorder type I, the classic manic-depressive illness, which has been well known since the time of the ancient Greeks. If a hypomanic seeks outpatient treatment it is usually for depression, and he will define recovery as a return to his old energetic self. Not all hypomanics cycle down into depression. What goes up can stay up. Thus, we cannot conclude that someone has a psychiatric disorder just because he may be hypomanic. The most we can say is that hypomanics are at much greater risk for depression than the average population. The things most likely to make them depressed are failure, loss, or anything that prevents them from continuing at their preferred breakneck pace.
Given how radically different mania and hypomania are, it is perhaps surprising that the diagnostic criteria for these two conditions are identical according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (usually referred to simply as DSM-IV):
A. A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least one week.

B. And at least three of the following:
1. Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
2. Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only three hours of sleep)
3. More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
4. Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
5. Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
6. Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
7. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)

The only guideline offered to mental health professionals in distinguishing between mania and hypomania is "degree of severity." Hypomania is "not sufficiently severe to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning or to require hospitalization." But DSM-IV tells us little else, when there is so much more that could be said.
This relative neglect of hypomania by psychiatry is striking when we consider that it affects many more people than does mania. We know from numerous large-scale studies, replicated both nationally and internationally, that classic manic depression exists in slightly less than 1 percent of the general population. . . .

Excerpted from The Hypomanic Edge by John D. Gartner Copyright © 2005 by John D. Gartner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.  

The Rx for Innovation (Baba Shiv)

It’s not just a stale platitude. If you want to be at peak performance, you have simply got to get a handle on your eating, sleeping, and dietary habits. This applies to business managers as well as Olympic athletes. Innovation in the workplace is fueled by good neurochemical balance in the brain. And this requires doing the right thing for your body.

The latest scientific research shows us that the brain operates along two different neural pathways. One pathway takes it from a state of high physiological arousal provoked by stress, where emotions like fear and anxiety abound, and attempts to move it to a place of comfort. Neurochemicals, such as cortisol, the “stress” chemical, and serotonin, the “calming” chemical, govern this pathway. The other pathway takes the brain from a condition of low physiological arousal –– conditions like boredom and apathy –– and moves it in the direction of excitement. A neuromoderator operating here is dopamine, the “stimulating” chemical. It provides the drive you need to get things done.

Because these two pathways are instinctively wired in the brain, stress dampens the ability to be creative. When you’re pressured or anxious, your brain is high on cortisol. It seeks safety, which means it will keep you focused on the beaten path. This is not the road to innovation. The right neurochemical cocktail for your best creative work is a high level of both serotonin and dopamine. This will produce a condition in which you are calm but energized. And what’s the best way to get that combination? A good night’s sleep.

In a typical night, you’ll dream only part of the time. This is called rapid eye-movement, or REM sleep. The last two phases of the non-REM portion of the evening occur when all the neuromoderators come back to normal levels. This is called “deep” or “restorative” sleep. Without a decent period of deep sleep –– a minimum of 30 minutes, but up to 2 hours is good –– your cortisol, or “stress” chemical level, will remain high, and that of serotonin, the “calming” chemical, low. And, unfortunately, we tend to lose out on deep sleep as we age.

So how do you know how much deep sleep you’re getting? Here’s where some of the latest technology can help. The Lark wristband, for example, tracks your sleep by monitoring how long your body is completely still –– the sign that you are in the deep phase. Zeo produces a headband with electrodes that you wear at night to monitor your REM and non-REM periods. With a little getting used to, these kinds of devices can help you figure out where you are and where you need to go. When I started out, I discovered I was getting only 15 minutes of deep sleep a night. That had to change.

Most of us could use better sleep — particularly when we want to be innovative — and the best way to increase deep sleep time is to arrive in bed relaxed. Take a hot shower or bath beforehand. Don’t drink alcohol to wind down –– drinking less than two hours before bed reduced deep sleep dramatically. Turn off all lights –– and this includes the screens and buttons on any kind of electronic device.

In my case, the culprit was the seemingly harmless screen on my iPad. Light affects the pineal gland and tells you that it’s time to be awake. Eat a light meal in the evening, and conclude the meal at least three to four hours before retiring. Digesting a big meal affects sleep. And late nights are not a good idea either — especially before a day that will demand your creative attention. To put the serotonin and dopamine you’ve bumped up by morning to its best use in innovating in your organization, schedule morning meetings whenever possible. Consider using video conferencing instead of stressing your body by traveling to another time zone.

Diet also affects your neuromoderators. A high-protein breakfast is the best brain food. The proteins produced in the body from it are converted to the much-coveted serotonin and dopamine. A high- carbohydrate breakfast won’t have the same effect. Fortified with good sleep and food, be sure to get regular cardiovascular exercise. When the heart muscles start pumping faster they release a peptide that is considered to help produce serotonin. So, if you have an afternoon meeting, take 10 or 15 minutes for a brisk walk. Or, better yet, walk and talk. Steve Jobs, for example, regularly held "walking" meetings; Mark Zuckerberg does, too. Serotonin makes you more creative and productive. Incidentally, exercise can also improve the quality of your sleep.

Finally, a word about caffeine. Caffeine is a physiological arouser. It amplifies the emotion you are currently feeling. If you’re feeling motivated, it will help you. If you’re feeling stressed, it will simply make you feel agitated –– and, again, that’s the last thing you want when you’re trying to innovate.

There’s no shortcut. The best way to “boost” the brain into its most creative and productive mode is to follow the ABCs of sleep, diet, and exercise, as outlined in this article.
Baba Shiv

Monday 4 March 2013

Politics and Sci-Fi: The Vulcan Mind Trick

John Ivison cribs Darth Vader - who more than a few politicians who started out like Anakin Skywalker are starting to resemble.

Kathleen Wynne learns from Obi-wan.

There are a lot of disillusioned political operatives who feel a bit like Ahsoka Tano.

Oh, and the pic above?  Someone understands the value of mash-up memes.

The trend is leaning towards Star Wars but then, we all know that J.J. Abrams has already done the Star Trek thing.  How do you transition your fans from one franchise to another?

You bridge the gap between them.

Spock said it best - infinite diversity, infinite combinations, etc.

Sunday 3 March 2013

Protest Canada: Conservative Wins Lead to People on the Streets (UPDATED)

I am by no means a political expert, nor am I anywhere as steeped in political trends as legitimate political pundits - so don't just take my word; please share your thoughts as well.

Caveat established, here goes - I completely agree that conservative politics is winning in Canada.  The people pushing the fear and security buttons, whatever their political brand, are tacking right and easily putting their message on bumper-stickers and in the hearts and minds of voters.  I think there's a good reason for this, but not the one political operatives think; it's not strictly that Conservatives are superior to progressives in campaign terms.  It's that the methodology being favoured by political teams from across the spectrum favours reactive (Conservative) responses.

Powerful leaders.  Repetition.  Emotion-trigger messaging.  Attack ads.  Repetition.  Sound bites.  Did I say repetition?  All these things appeal to the rapid-response, rote-learning part of our brain, inciting reactionary behaviour.  By using these tools, progressives are essentially sending support to the Conservative brand.  Or, alternatively, they are becoming increasingly conservative in their own methodology, aping the opponents they would fight against (which is why knowing yourself is so vital to long-term success).

There are consequences to this approach.  To keep messaging, repetition and fear consistent, you have to instill a certain kind of culture within political Parties.  This means message discipline, carrot-and-stick motivation and, of course, everyone's gotta hold the line no matter what their conscious tells them.  Those unwilling or unable to play the Game of Thrones gets kicked to the curb, left without a partisan roof to stand under.  Coordination and power are increasingly reduced to fewer hands, with rank-and-file Members of a Party becoming spokespeople and pawns, not players.  As no one Leader can keep all the balls in the air at once and when you don't trust your rank-and-file not to mess up on the circled-wagon presentation, power then finds its way into the hands of back-room people who are accountable to individuals, not constituencies.

Politics is less about policy and more about marketing - and using, to an increasing degree, the same kinds of tools as sole-purpose marketeers.  These tools don't come cheap; brand-management never does, whether it's an ad campaign for a movie or a peacock's tail. 

Think about that for a second - how many Social Conservatives are so dead-set against publicly-delivered services that they'll spend thousands supporting partisan campaigns?  Same holds true for left-leaning folk who spend big bucks telling government to spend more on social services - dollars that could, technically, go to front-line charities.  Across the board, how many constituency groups spend big on advertising in competition with Parties or legislation they don't like?  If all of this money were spent on service delivery, how many of the problems we're paying to complain about could we address, reduce, perhaps even solve?

Other side of this coin - when it becomes about picking winners and losers instead of strengthening the whole, the politicians do the same thing - they look for winning coalitions and design policy for political wins with voter blocks likey to support them.  This means partisanship trumps policy, a no-no so far as proper political ethics goes.  In a hyper-competitive environment, though, you have no choice - you need the points to win, but the process by which those points are gained leaves a Party vulnerable, driving bad behaviour underground.  Only there is no underground anymore, as robocalls, "political truths" and Project Apple are teaching us.

Simple, repetitive, reactionary, fear-based messaging can't work for progressives because progress, by its very nature, is about adaptation, foresight and optimism.  You can't out-conservative a conservative and hope for a progressive outcome - to think otherwise is Einstein's definition of insanity.
Besides, there's another consequence to the conservative approach of bread-and-circus messaging and don't-look-behind-the-curtain governance; when you tell people that their interests are under threat and they don't have faith that anyone is representing them, they take to the streets to raise their own voice under their own brand.
Ontario's teacher protests are one example of this.  Idle No More is another.  So is Occupy.  Tightly controlled internal politics might produce greater partisan wins, but on a shrinking electoral platform.  Voters are losing faith in the power of their votes and instead are relying on the power of protests.  Right-wing pundits in the media can call protesters whiners, the overly-privileged or whatever they want, but the fact remains - the more governments tighten their grip, the more citizens fall through their fingers.  We're also getting an increase in civic engagement groups that are attracting high-profile support.  The people of influence who want a chance to be heard for who they are, not what Party they represent, are headed to venues like Why Should I Care where the people, not the pundits, are aggregating.  It's a political gravity thing. 

So, what's the solution to this political pickle facing progressives?  It's actually not that hard - instead of using modern tools to out-Tory the Tories, use those same tools in a progressive way; to foster dialogue, to promote rational optimism and to make policy cool and fun.  Instead of using political karate against your opponents, try judo instead.  If you want people to believe you're about moving forward in a together-like fashion, prove it through example.

Kathleen Wynne has quickly demonstrated talent at this modern-day progressive approach.  She will be under the constant temptation to hit back in the mode of her competition, but to do so is a trap.  True progressives won't give in to belittling their opposition, whether it's across the aisle, in a stakeholder group or a member of their own Party.  They will own leadership by demonstrating leadership, which is about inspiring everyone to follow, not throwing your weak under the bus.  Doing so only makes it easier for your opponents to roll over your whole brand.

Lead by example.  If you put winning ahead of accomplishing, that's the example you set.  That's what you'll get from the populace; not social democracy, but individual competition and resulting civil strife.  The former approach manifests itself at the ballot box; the former on the streets.

Of course, this is just my humble opinion, informed neither by decades of slugging it out in the confines of political trenches nor a mountain of data about voting trends (or protest trends).  I don't learn by using the same tools that have worked for generations.  I learn by using the same interactions that have worked forever - I listen, I observe, I ask and then I ponder.  All the inconsequentials the really successful people are simply too busy to bother with.  Unlike them, I make no headlines - however, the issues I care about do seem to be cropping up in a growing number of places.

Now it's your turn to share what you think.  Does simplistic, reactionary political marketing support conservative wins and lead to popular protests, not popular votes?  If not, why not? 

Your ideas will always be welcome here, though respectful commentary is encouraged.  After all, that's why this blog exists in the first place - to establish a commons where communication (not messaging) can happen, understanding be reached and shared solutions be developed.  It's what we do, as it were.

Perhaps there's an example in this for politics, too.

UPDATE 23/11/13: Pictures are worth 1,000 words.  Actions, of course, are priceless.